Math Anxiety A Real Problem or Just an Excuse?

 

Math Anxiety – A Real Problem or Just an Excuse?

by Ann K. Dolin,M.Ed.

 

The thought of a math test can make even the most confidentstudent stressed out, but for some, the feelings associated with math go farbeyond garden-variety stress. For these students, a feeling of intenseanxiety develops to the point where they are no longer able to think clearly.

 

Are these emotions a real problem or just an excuse to avoidan uncomfortable academic subject?

 

Dr. Sian Beilock, author of Choke, a 2010 book on brain responses, says that,”People are very happy to say that they don’t like math, but no one walksaround bragging that they can’t read. It’s perfectly socially acceptable to sayyou don’t like math.”

 

The Latest Research

Studies show that when students solve math problems, theyfirst process information through the amygdala, the brain’s emotion center.Within a millisecond, another section of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex,takes over allowing the student to juggle data and think critically. In highlyanxious students, the amygdala is far too active, leaving the pre-frontalcortex underutilized.

 

What Causes SuchStress Over Math?

Is this reaction learned or biological? The answer is two-fold. First, brainscans reveal that young children who are quick and accurate show a very lowlevel of stress. Those who are slow and less accurate demonstrate a high levelof stress in the brain. These early difficulties, even when minor in nature,cause frustration and difficulty later on.

 

It is also true that math anxiety can be a learned behavior.Dr. Beilock found first and second grade female teachers unconsciously passedon their negative attitudes about math to their female students (males did notseem to be affected). This trend doesn’t just exist in classrooms. Parents canalso pass down their own negative perceptions to their children, both male andfemale.

 

What to Do If YourChild Experiences Math Anxiety

 

 

The thought of a math test can make even the most confidentstudent stressed out, but for some, the feelings associated with math go farbeyond garden-variety stress. For these students, a feeling of intenseanxiety develops to the point where they are no longer able to think clearly.

 

It is important to recognize that the problem will not goaway by encouraging your child to “try harder” or “stopworrying”. Instead, use the following strategies:

  

Don’t Let It Slide.  Math is the sole subject that is nearly 100%cumulative. Students must have a strong foundation or they will fall behind,lose confidence, and grow to dislike the subject. When you see your childstruggling, intervene right away by assisting with homework. You may find thatthe older your child gets, the less willing he is to work with you. Seekafter-school help from the teacher or hire a tutor who can patiently break downconcepts, fill in any gaps, and instill confidence.

 

Watch Your Words.Even if math was difficult for you as a child, don’t harp on your shortcomingsby saying, “I was terrible at math, too. It must run in the family.”Instead, focus on what can be changed. The truth is that with practice, yourchild can overcome his or her weakness in math. Adopt the mantra “practicemakes permanent”, not “practice makes perfect”. With enoughreinforcement, your child will be able to remember the important steps tosolving problems.

 

Do Not Push AdvancedClasses. The trend these days is for students to take advanced math classesearly on, beginning with Algebra in 7th or 8th grade. This approach is a goodone for many students but not for all. Those experiencing significant math anxietiesmay be further stymied because they feel overwhelmed and underprepared.Although your child may be capable of keeping up, don’t force advanced classesif he or she is not quite ready. 

 

Beware of TESTAnxiety. Sometimes test anxiety in any subject increases when students sitdown to take a test knowing they are not fully prepared. The old adage”You can’t study for math” is simply not true. The best way for astudent to prepare is to make a practice test and solve the problems as if it isthe real exam. This allows the student to know which problems he cannot solveand to practice accordingly. In many instances, proper preparation decreasesstress on test day.

 

Use the Summer.Although it may be tempting for you and your child to take a break from mathover the summer, studies show that this is not a good idea. The summer is theperfect time to review the skills that are troublesome and to preview what liesahead in the coming school year. This ensures that your child will get off onthe right foot in the fall.

Whether negative feelings towards math are biologicallyrooted or learned, it’s never too late to help your child turn the corner tosuccess.

 

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions forStress-Free Homework, offers provensolutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learnmore at www.ectutoring.com.

For Your Information:

Study tips to reduce math anxiety can be found at:

http://www.math.com/students/advice/anxiety.html

 

Overcoming MathAnxiety by Sheila Tobias

 

Arithmetic and AlgebraAgain: Leaving Math Anxiety Behind Forever by Britta Immergut

 

Mind over Math: PutYourself on the Road to Success by Freeing Yourself From Math Anxiety byDr. Stanley Eogelman and Dr. Joseph Warren

 

 

 

About WF Staff

Washington FAMILY Staff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.